Institute's new lease of life for '˜forgotten' invention

A solar-powered water pump originally designed in the 1980s could have the potential to revolutionise farming in sub-Saharan Africa.

Game changer: Dennis Careys solar-powered water pump could change the lives of people in developing countries, thanks to modern technology. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Dennis Carey had always had ambitions to see his solar-powered water pump used to help people in developing countries, his daughter Sue Becconsall said.

Longcroft Engineering, of which the late Mr Carey was chairman, is now working with engineers at Huddersfield University, who are using modern technology to refine the pump’s design.

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The pump, which could reach water seven metres below ground and does not have a single moving part, could help farm workers irrigate crops in parts of the world with a dry climate.

While still in the prototype stage, the finished device is expected to cost no more than £30 per unit to produce.

Back in the 1980s, Mr Carey had produced prototypes and installed them as a water feature in his garden in the Lake District. But with only the technology available at the time, Mr Carey was unable to get the device to work well enough to be of use.

Ms Becconsall said: “He had come up with the idea and had produced prototypes but hadn’t really been able to optimise the performance because at the time computer programmes just couldn’t do sufficiently complex computations to be able to do the design work that was necessary.

“He knew the idea worked but didn’t know how to make it work more effectively. Computers just weren’t powerful enough then.”

Mr Carey, who was chairman of engineering company Longcroft Engineering, eventually shelved the project.

It wasn’t until after her father died in 2012 that Ms Becconsall was made aware of funding through Innovate UK’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) programme which helps to bridge the gap between idea and product for small businesses.

This programme, run in conjunction with the Department for International Development, offered £47,000 of funding to produce proof of concept for an irrigation device for sub-Saharan Africa.

With help from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Ms Becconsall, who is finance director of Longcroft Engineering and project manager of the solar pump project, put together an application and secured funding to develop the device.

Ms Becconsall took the patent to Professor John Allport at the Turbocharger Research Institute, University of Huddersfield, who has been working on improving the design using 3D computational models.

Professor Allport said: “From his original notes and his prototypes, we’ve more or less reverse engineered that to create a computer simulation of it.”

The department was able to produce a new improved prototype.

Ms Becconsall said: “Innovate UK were happy with that and we were invited to apply for phase two funding. Phase two funding is to produce a pre-production full-size prototype of the pump, which we will then need to demonstrate to assessors from Innovate that it works.”

Longcroft Engineering has submitted the phase two application which, if successful will provide a grant of up to £250,000. However, only two projects of the six invited to apply will receive funding.

Those working on the project will find out during December if their application for phase two has been successful.

Professor Allport said: “We’re really enjoying working on it because it’s something completely different.

“It’s a bit more than a ‘coffee time’ challenge and it’s something we wouldn’t normally come across.

“Knowing the product could go to help people in developing countries is one of the real attractions of it.

“It’s still an ongoing project that’s by no means finished but we’ve started something that could really make a difference and we’re just hoping we can continue.”

Ms Becconsall said: “Dad spent over 25 years work on this design concept and would have been so pleased to know that it is likely to realise its potential and to be put to its intended use helping those in developing countries.”

Longcroft Engineering was established in 1999, specialising in bespoke springs and pressings. The company has 22 staff at its base in Todmorden, West Yorkshire and has an annual turnover of £1.3m.

Pump that has no moving parts

Sue Becconsall said the fact that the pump has no moving parts makes it unique.

“There are no, or very few, pumps out there that have no moving parts whatsoever,” she said. “This means there are no parts to wear out.”

Ms Becconsall added: “Once the pump is set up, it can be left unattended – you just leave it. It works. It doesn’t need special skills or knowledge to use. It doesn’t need any servicing. It can cope with dirty water. Because there’s no moving parts there’s no parts to jam. If you get stones in, it won’t matter. It can cope with that.

“It looks quite simple but it actually requires a lot of complex design going into coming up with the correct design.”